After a long and protracted battle, the apex court on Thursday allowed the use of Aadhar number for all state and central schemes, including the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, among others. Suffice to say, it is a major victory for the government. In its interim order on August 11, the court had restricted the use of Aadhar number (unique identity number) to paying subsidies only for the public distribution system and cooking gas and kerosene. The latest order comes as a source of relief for millions of poor beneficiaries, who had registered under the unique identification scheme of the Indian government. The interim order had put a hold on the disbursement of these funds. As of now, 920 million Indian citizens have been allotted Aadhaar numbers, according to the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI). However, Attorney General Mukul Rohtagi clarified to the court that the Aadhar scheme will remain voluntary and that no intended beneficiary will be denied access to the above government schemes, if they do not possess the unique identification card. It is an important clarification primarily because one problem of linking Aadhar to government schemes like MNREGA is that it may end up being exclusionary in nature. As discussed in these columns earlier, a recent World Bank report states that identification systems can quickly turn into a source of social exclusion; one only <g data-gr-id="30">need</g> look at the abuse of Below Poverty Line cards in India. Also, for the benefit of the uninitiated, we shall reproduce some of the concerns that still dog the scheme, as stated in these columns earlier. Although the government has said that no intended beneficiary will suffer due to a lack of an Aadhar card, the facts on the ground seem to suggest otherwise. The stated aim of the Aadhar scheme is to weed out fakes and duplicates and ensure that no eligible person suffers or is denied any benefit or service. Much of the excitement surrounding the unique identification card has to do with its intended benefits. According to a study conducted by the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy (NIPFP), “substantial benefits would accrue to the government by integrating Aadhaar with schemes such as PDS, MNREGS, fertiliser and LPG subsidies, as well as housing, education and health programmes. The benefits arise from the reduction in leakages that occur due to identification and authentication issues”.
Although such a conclusion is entirely plausible; the NIPFP study was criticised by many noted economists. According to them, Aadhaar-integration can resolve only certain types of leakages, for which reliable data is unavailable. The NIPFP authors do not deny this, claiming that they have been “elaborately careful in pointing out its limitations”, which includes not having adequate data. Moreover, the project has been consistently plagued by fake ID’s being issued and repeated forgeries being commonplace. When the previous UPA government introduced Aadhar-based pilot projects across various districts to determine whether welfare services are delivered to the doorstep of the intended beneficiary, it ran into many problems. These include poor internet connectivity, bank technology upgradation, lack of security, doubts over the integrity of banking correspondents deputed by the state government. Finally, on the issue of privacy violation and data seeding for the details provided while applying for an Aadhar card, the apex court will appoint a larger bench to hear the case. The debate in court has raised a crucial debate of whether the right to privacy is a fundamental right.